2013 Ray Browne Conference on Popular Culture @BG_PCSA #BCPC13

What a fun time I had at the 2013 Ray Browne conference on Popular Culture last weekend.  Here’s what I saw:

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Session 1: Social Media and (Self) Presentation.

Panel Moderator: Myc Wiatrowski (Bowling Green State University)
Rebecca Butorac (Indiana University): Social Media Caught Socially Unaware: Parody, Performance and Reflexivity in the “First World Problems Anthem” – a smart analysis of the rhetoric used by ads asking for help.  Ms. Butorac compared the First World Problems Anthem with the hoary old Sally Struthers CCF ads.  She rightly pointed out the dangers of fetishizing suffering to raise money.  A key question to explore in future — did the more ethical method work better to raise money?  If not, which is better, to exploit and raise money for the cause or to be straightforward and less effective at fundraising?

Emily Davis (Bowling Green State University): The Eating disorders of Instagram – Ms. Davis presented a very compelling exploration of the secret pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia groups on Instagram, groups that use photos and comments to support one another in maintaining the dangerous eating habits.  She highlighted two really interesting observations – first, the private, personal, portable nature of Instagram as phone app makes it an enabler, a tool that makes it easier to hide these addictions.  Second, recovering sufferers of these diseases maintain connections to the community, a stunning idea to my mind.  I can’t imagine an alcoholic who hangs out in a bar while trying to recover.

Session 7: Commodities and Auras in a Technologic Age

Panel Moderator: Dr. Jeremy Wallach (Bowling Green State University)
Tim Jones (Bowling Green State University): “Wooden Idols and Aviator Shades”: Thingness and Technology in the Comics and Books of Chris Ware – Jones’ paper was destined to be a favorite as I’m such a big Chris Ware fan.  He compared the notion of success and meaning in Ware’s two books, the “Red” book, which is built around an idea of failure, and Building Stories, which seems to be constructed around an idea of one’s own success.
Jacob Brown (Bowling Green State University): Aura in the Information Age: Warehouse 13, Geekomancy, and Benjamin – Brown gave a vigorous talk exploring the magic system in the novel Geekomancy and its attendant re-evaluation of the Benjaminian notion of aura.  The suggestion, here, is that “nerdstalgia” provides a different kind of motive for understanding how we invest emotional capital in things.

3:30 Keynote Address 1

Dr. Brendan Riley (Columbia College, Chicago): “You Need a System to Make it Work: Detectives, Memory, and the Age of Electracy” – A compelling keynote from a brilliant scholar!

Session 10: Marketing, Awareness, and Cults of Personality

Panel Moderator: Debbie Ribiera (Bowling Green State University)
Sean Ahern (University at Buffalo): Il Communication: National Heroes in the Life and Death of Kim Jong-il – I’m afraid I missed much of this paper because I was talking with people after my keynote, but from what I did see, Ahern explored the nature of the propaganda around the leader of North Korea and his public image.

Monica Lott (Kent State University): “A Deliberate Popularity: The Self-Conscious Author in the Works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers” – I’ve had the pleasure of seeing quite a few of Monica Lott’s papers over the years.  She brings a thorough, classic approach to the study of mystery and she didn’t disappoint this time.  This paper was about the dissatisfaction Sayers and Christie felt by the constrictions of the genres they wrote for.  Christie in particular solved the problem in a number of ways, including putting herself into the books and writing some books under a pseudonym.

Anna Louise Wiegenstein (Bowling Green State University): “Hot, Ready, Legal” The Business of Bieber – Ms. Wiegenstein’s paper made a thorough analysis of the marketing efforts behind Justin Bieber’s public transition from “boy” to “man” in the public eye.  This was easily the most enjoyable paper of the conference for the pure performative nature of Ms. Wiegenstein’s work.  As one person put it, she delivered the talk with one eyebrow raised sardonically.  Most striking, I thought, was that both Bieber and Lindsay Lohan appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone under the title “Hot, Ready, Legal” when they turned eighteen.

6:30 Keynote Address 2

Thomas Malaby (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee): “Domesticating Games” – Malaby presented an excellent discussion of the nature of Game as a kind of social order, and suggested it as a new form on par with Bureaucracy and Ritual, something to be used and explored in that context.  I took tons of notes and came away from the talk quite energized.  Most key for me was the three part discussion of these social orders, since both Bureaucracy and Ritual have long been part of my vocabulary about the structuring methods for societies under different ages of human communication (Ritual: Orality:: Bureaucracy: Literacy) leading to the question of whether Game presents itself as Electracy’s social order.  A thought worth pondering, for sure.


Sunday, 10 February

Session 11: The Digital Frontier: Fans and Trolls

Panel Moderator: Nicki Reamer (Bowling Green State University)
Blake Hallinan (Indiana University): “How are you, I’m fine thanks:  … on Tumblr” – Solid discussion of fandom, fan art, and communities on Tumblr.  My favorite observation was that men and women tend to engage in fandom differently and that men use their flavor of fandom as a gatekeeping method to dismiss typically-female approaches to fandom.  This seems to be changing, though, focusing around the sharing of sacred texts.  Hallinan makes a strong connection between the fan art/community and the way that religious communities revere texts and sainted figures.
Laura Guill (Purdue University Calumet): Nerdfighters and the Project for Awesome: Participatory Culture and Affinity Space – Guill’s discussion of the Nerdfighter community provided lots to think about, exploring the value of participatory communities as spaces for action over passive audience activities.  She detailed how they’re rhetorically welcoming and fiercely protective of that welcoming attitude.  The biggest takeaway from this piece was, for me, a flash of inspiration about MOOCs — might this kind of activity be one of the ways to develop work in a MOOC, using the community enthusiasm for projects?  Will ponder.


Midwest PCA wrap up

The Midwest Popular Culture Association had its annual meeting last weekend, and as the Executive Secretary, I see the conference for its warts and all.  But it’s pretty darn great.  Some thoughts:

  • The Mystery, Crime, Thriller, and Detective area saw an okay year, with one and a half panels of good papers.  Will try to do better next year.  My own panel wasn’t bad, but I particularly liked the panel on AJ Raffles, Bleak House, and The Thin Man.  Despite sending out CFPs and so on, I don’t get a lot of papers.  I’m approaching the Copyright and Intellectual Property Area (at the national) a bit more aggressively this year, so if that turns out well perhaps I’ll do the same at the MPCA.
  • Moneywise, we came out okay.  Since my main job is to manage the conference’s money, I’m constantly worrying about whether we’ll lose money or not.  The final numbers are still being tallied, but so far things look good–going in, I thought the $10 fee reduction was going to cost us too much, but in the end we came out okay.
  • Lots of great enthusiasm for new initiatives this coming year, with new committees in Marketing, a potential Journal, and a new reporting structure for our awards committees.  We also had a fantastically successful new initiative in the Featured Speakers program, which involved two scholars giving plenary talks on Friday evening before the reception.  We had roughly 120 people at the two talks, which is about a third of all the people who registered–that’s a really solid number given that many people don’t arrive until Saturday.  Huzzah!  Let’s hope the momentum keeps rolling.  My personal goal for the next year is to apply for 501c3 status for the organization.
  • Andrew noted my stress levels getting high in the last month or so, and asked why I continue to volunteer for leadership roles in these conferences.  In part, it’s because I care about the organizations and feel I have a lot to offer them; it’s also because I think I have good habits of thought and mind that help me do this kind of work well; but last, it’s because the payoff is much higher than the stress, in terms of networking and contacts, in terms of emotional enjoyment, and of the benefit I provide for others.
  • Next year will be in Columbus, Ohio.  Should be another good one.

Computers and Writing 2011

Good summaries abound on the web, but I thought I’d turn in my thoughts as well.

The venue:

  • Congrats to the folks at the University of Michigan Sweetland Writing Center for their excellent organizing and venue choice.  The panel rooms were great and the dorms were fine.  The union center worked okay, but the audio needed a bit more oomph, as the clinkity clank of silverware made quite a racket.
  • Being in Ann Arbor reminded me a lot of Gainesville.  There were parts of town that were wicked trendy, awesome little businesses (lunch at Zuckerman’s deli owned), and cool college town stuff.  There was also a high quotient of student-priced cheapo-grunge businesses and shitty housing around the campus.  Also, a very high hipster quotient (even compared to my current environment, a Chicago art school).
  • Had a lovely evening at a bar with Bradley Dilger and Alex Reid.  Aside from great conversation both academic and personal, I also learned an excellent theory of group activity: three people is the best number for long, peer events because you can have a single conversation for the whole time.  With four, you break into sets of two.

The sessions:

  • This is the first conference I’ve been to in je ne sais how long where I saw no stinko papers.  I wasn’t enchanted with the Tim Wu keynote, but mostly because I thought he didn’t know his audience very well.  We all got what he was saying really fast, and he could have pushed into more detailed discussion earlier.  I thought the Hawisher talk was a nice summary of the past and likely future of the field, but its narrative style didn’t fit the dinner environment, which could have used a strong entertainment component to hold the hungry and beer-seeking audience in thrall. By contrast, all the papers I heard were quite good.
  • #c02 – Laurie Gries gave a really interesting talk weaving de Bord and ideas of psychogeography in with notions of circulation to examine how the Shepard Fairey HOPE image circulated.  Oodles of examples and cool stuff.  Derek Mueller demonstrated the awesome potential of animating the data reflecting how keywords in CCC have circulated over the last 20 years.  Really compelling visuals and interesting conclusions.
  • #d03 – Cynthia Haynes, Jan Holmevik, and Victor Vitanza reflected on MOOs and the current state of the web.  Each presentation was startling, interesting, and different from the others.  Vitanza, as always, entertains as much as he provokes thinking.  Check out my tweets from the session to get more details.
  • #e13 – the “Is Blogging Dead” roundtable yielded lots of great conversation and interesting stuff.  LOVED it.  Bradley has a better summary than I could write, and Dennis Jerz storified the whole twitter sidechannel.  It was good stuff!
  • #f09 – Michael Pennell gave a really interesting piece about using Google Maps as a writing platform, and Tim Amidon related sustainability, ecology, tourism, and writing classes.  I especially liked his use of the Hawaiian term “Haole” (pronounced how-lee) to describe the practice of FY writing students entering digital spaces to do projects.  It’s a great term, one that acknowledges the assholishness of arrogant outsiders but also suggests the good intentions and positive goals those outsiders have.  Respect for the root is a useful idea I took away from the conversation.
  • #TH-02 – The Digital Humanities Roundtable was interesting, but I didn’t get a whole lot out of it.  The main thrust seems to be that the keywords digital humanities open up purse springs for people with grant money and get deans all excited.  Few of the town hallers seemed to have much use for the term themselves.

Overall, the conference was really great for being able to spend time with Bradley, a colleague from my UF days who is simultaneously mentor and peer, far enough ahead of me in his studies and work timeline that I can watch how he navigates various waters and aim to emulate him, but close enough that we are friends who can collaborate and conspire on even ground.  It’s also good to reconnect with Ulmerians sometimes, as we have a similar perspective on the world, even if I’ve drifted more into Popular Culture studies while he has moved more toward Technical Communications as his star rises in the Rhet/Comp world.

St. Louis, in pictures

While I was in St. Louis, I got away for an hour and a half to walk around the downtown area and take pictures.  I borrowed my friend Paul’s camera and took 110 pics.  Here they are:

All are CC licenced, so enjoy and use!

PCA/ACA Rundown II

Gateway Arch at SunsetMore on the PCA/ACA 2010 conference in St. Louis.

  • Panel 2278, Mystery and Detective: Trans-Genre Mysteries.  My talk on Gibson’s Pattern Recognition will appear here on Friday.
  • John Teel read “ESP, the Paranormal, and Detective Fiction: Breaking the Rules, or New Rules?” in which he argued that detective stories usually do not include supernatural phenomena because the reader needs access to all the clues the detective has and thus such extra clues would be “cheating.”  But as audience interest in the puzzle-game detective story has waned, such elements have appeared more often.  Teel focused on stories by writers who normally don’t include those elements, rather than fantasy stories like Dan Butcher’s The Dresden Files.
  • Marilyn Rye read “Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie Novels: Genre Bending,” a close-reading of Atkinson’s three novels in the series.  Rye argues for the complexity and depth of the novels, despite their presence in the genre category.  She relates Atkinson’s own interest in writing genre fiction despite her usual presence in general literature.
  • Panel 3374, Eros and Pornography.  Paul Booth presented an interesting talk called “Participatory Porno: Web Sex Chat and the Mechanization of Sexuality,” in which he argued that the process used to facilitate web sex chats enacts a kind of technologizing of sex that works in precisely the opposite way that fandom and fan culture usually work.  In fan culture, people watch the texts and then enter online communities to interact, create work, and commune.  Web sex chats are the reverse, where communal production and conversation happen in the general room before people pay the premium to chat with the sex performer.  Interesting talk.  Also, there was a typo from some guy on a site that was pretty funny, in which he said “Can I see a tittle?”
  • Matthew Jones showed a vast number of images he’d categorized as “Deviant Eroticism.”  It was a strange slide show of 160 examples of ancient and modern erotic art, with some strange imagery mixed in.  Who knew there was erotic art depicting winged centaurs?  Not me.
  • Dennis Hall gave an amusing talk about an erotic literature site where tens of thousands of amateur erotic stories appear.  His interest was in the “how to” section of the site, where hundreds of articles explained both how to improve one’s sexual skills, but also how to improve one’s writing.  The fact that performing these acts and writing about them was intermixed suggested a number of interesting conclusions, to Hall.  An interesting talk, for sure.
  • Finally, a French Canadian scholar gave a really interesting talk about an advertising campaign that implied a range of sexual activities without actually showing any of them.  Strangely, the ad series was banned in France, where television standards are pretty liberal, usually.  He explored the ways the ads functioned to shape viewer expectation by only implying, rather than explicitly showing, the sexual ideas and acts being discussed.

Overall, a great conference.

PCA/ACA Rundown I

A Hydrant near the Gateway ArchI went to the national PCA/ACA conference last week in beautiful St. Louis.  It was a great event, with lots of fun people and good scholarship to see.  As usual, I did not get to see as many panels as I would have liked since I’m on the executive board and so have to attend a bunch of meetings.  But I saw a few, so here’s the breakdown of what I saw:

  • Part of panel 1132, Horror: Getting Critical with Zombies.  I missed the first two papers because of a meeting, but I heard Nick and Rick McDonald’s dialog about zombies “Zombie Alterity.”  The McDonalds focused mostly on the question of zombies as other and where the pleasure in a zombie movie comes from.  Does it come from the interaction of characters and how we understand that interaction, or does it come from the joy of watching people kill zombies a lot.  American Zombie or Zombieland?  Not a bad paper, but I thought the dialog form didn’t work as well as it could have, perhaps because they scripted it instead of working from notes and really getting into the performance of the argument.
  • I really enjoyed Charles Hoge’s “The Zombie Runs Deep,” in which he explores what I would call the pre-history of the zombie, looking at revenants as zombies from before the mass-media era.  While I would quibble that the idea of revenants usually turns on a different kind of fear and a different kind of malice (the haunting or vengeful spirit rather than the externally-driven corpse) and that there’s no distinction in the old literature between vampires, zombies, and ghosts, the paper was fascinating nonetheless, and will probably be part of my zombie class in future, if I can connect with him.  This paper won the Brendan Riley Award for my Favorite Paper I Saw At the Conference.
  • 1172, Film Adaptation IV.  Jacky Dumas presented an interesting discussion of semiotics, truth in narrative, and Tim Burton’s Big Fish.  The idea, as I remember it, was that the false tales told in the story are engineered by the characters in such a way that they define who those characters are.  Dumas wove a complex set of semiotic theories that were a bit tough to grasp in an oral presentation for someone without much background in linguistics or comm theory, but I think I got the gist. The stories become the tall-tale-teller’s lives.  Of course, we could all make the same claim about our own anecdotal pasts as well.  In conversation, I suggested integrating Housesitter and Memento into the mix.  Having seen the talk makes me want to watch Big Fish again.
  • In the same panel, Paul Petrovic presented a fascinating discussion of the imagery of women in the two Watchmen texts.  His general argument was that the movie hollows out the female characters and fetishizes them into sexual objects with little depth.  It was an interesting talk that led to an involved and exciting discussion session.

More tomorrow…

On Conferences

So I just got back from the Midwest PCA conference in Detroit, where I am the “Executive Secretary.”  This means I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, mostly registration and finances.  It’s been a grueling first year, with some big lapses on my part but some successes as well.  A few thoughts about how the conference went:

  • The general response was pretty positive: people seemed to have a good time and the folks who came to the conference, by and large, enjoyed themselves and experienced few problems.
  • As with every conference I’ve attended, the biggest friction comes from A/V, which people assume will be there but isn’t unless they requested it.  Also, Mac people show up with laptops assuming the hotel will have the right adaptor to hook to the VGA cable.  Get with the program, Maccies, you’ve got to bring your own adaptor, since every single Mac has its own ideosyncratic video out jack and needs a different adaptor.  Not every line of Macs.  Every single Mac.  I think they use an evolving algorithm to fabricate new ones as the assembly line produces them.
  • I haven’t got the final bill yet, but it looks like the money came out better than we expected it to.  Nice.
  • It’s been hard, today, to get back on the teaching/grading/other work horse.  I have the end-of-semester relief that shouldn’t be here for another six weeks.  Gotta get with the program, buddy.
  • I reflected, during the meetings there, just how awesome it is that all the people who contribute to the conference do so.  The number of folks who collaborate to make it “go” astounds me.  If you’re one of them reading this: thanks!
  • Next year I’m going to try to go to more panels.  Ha.  Fat chance.

We have a bunch of new stuff to try for next year, and I’m excited to get started on it.  First, though, we have a post-mortem to do so we can figure out just how much money we spent.  Sigh.

PCA/ACA 2009

Traveled to New Orleans for the Popular Culture and American Culture Association 2009 meeting.  Inspired by cbd’s CCCC roundup, here are my bullets:

  • Traveled with Jenny for our first real, non-kid, more than one night vacation in a long time.  It was really fun, and hearing Avery tell us about her day over the phone was hilarious.
  • I didn’t get to very many panels this year: the more you do to help run the conference, the less you see of the conference itself.   I caught most of a panel on Firefly, attended my own panel (which had a healthy-for-PCA-audience of at least 20-25), and went to the Buffy “Once More With Feeling” screening.
  • As we waited in line for the concierge, along came Dave Johnson.  We ate lunch with him on Friday at a charming little bistro called Oceana.  Excellent crab cakes.  Saw many other conference regulars and friends as well.
  • Our panel, a five-person round table on teaching horror, went pretty well.  Each teacher had a different approach that suited the class and the situation they taught in.  Because it was a round-table, we spent 20 minutes talking and 60 minutes Q&Aing.  Our moderator was fantastic, too.
  • The elevators at the Marriott on Canal street have a cool new system.  You punch in the floor number you want when you arrive at the elevator bank, and the lcd flashes with the letter of the elevator you will take.  Then, when you step in, the elevator has planned which floors it will stop at.  Disconcertingly, there are no floor buttons in the elevators themselves.  A couple times, people rushed on out of habit, trying to catch an upward-bound elevator.  Then they said things like, “Is this one going to 41?  No? Shit.” And hopped off at the next floor.  We joked that if you found yourself on the elevator without a floor selected, the door would open into the secret programmer access hallways from The Matrix. Or Hell.
  • The paper table went okay this year, but I was a bit off on my game of getting volunteers, so we were a little understaffed.  As per Richard Sax’s suggestion, I’m going to go back to guilting the area chairs into helping out.  I ended up working three shifts myself, which is, um two more than I prefer.  We made $1200 for the travel grant fund, though.
  • Other meetings: the regional execs chat, the area chairs meeting, the executive board meeting.  I skipped the business meeting, but since no one came, it was adjourned quickly anyway.
  • I don’t know what I thought Burbon Street would be, but it was mostly stupid.  I did see a police officer with a decorative sticker of a flor-de-lis on the butt of her gun, though.   And lots of naked ladies.
  • I bought a cool tee-shirt at Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo, but couldn’t wear it right away because it had adopted the smell of the store–a hefty odor of tobacco and perhaps a little marijuana.  Like a rock concert.
  • Lots of seafood and good desserts.  My favorite was the Bananas Foster at Brennan’s, the restaurant where said dessert was invented.  Alas, our server was a little skittish about the fire and didn’t manage a tower of flame like some of the more daring cooks did.
  • We took two tours of the French Quarter.  The first was the Haunted History tour, led by a jaunty tour guide in a jaunty hat.  She told dramatic stories of creepy houses and betrayed lovers as we walked around the quarter.  She also gave us advice for taking pictures to capture ghostly activity.  My favorite part of her technique was that she regularly mentioned multiple theories or stories related to a single thing, acknowledging that any one (or none) might be true.  She told a particularly gruesome tale about the LaLaurie house and the horrors that happened there.  Apparently Nicholas Cage owns the house now, but it’s unoccupied, standing mute for the history tours.  Yech.
  • Our second tour was in a horse-drawn carraige, guided by a heavy-set man with a greasy mustache.  With a glimmer in his eye, he talked with an almost-incomprehensible rapidity mixed with a southern drawl that made him nearly impossible to understand.  He made quite a few ribald jokes, chuckling and winking and waggling his eyebrows with each.  “There was a pirate convention in town last week, you know.  They call their ladies wenches, and sometimes auction off their wenches. Heh heh heh.”  It sounds menacing but was really entertaining.  He was also able to explain the S-shaped metal hooks we’d seen in the walls — they keep the shutters open.

Software for managing awards?

I’m the chair of the Ray and Pat Browne Best Edited Collection award for the PCA this year, and I’m curious if anyone has any advice for software to use to manage my committee’s evaluation of the submissions.  I’m thinking of something that allows each member to log in and rate the various submissions, to add comments, etc.  This would greatly speed up our discussion and ease management of this task.

Any ideas?

PCA roundup

The PCA/ACA 2008 National Meeting was excellent. I enjoyed myself very much, heard several great panels, got elected to the executive board, and got to see San Francisco. Here’s a roundup of papers I found particularly memorable:

  • 028 – Olivier Mauco gave an interesting talk on political activities in online spaces (such as WoW). I liked his connection of a variety of theories to the online political activity, but thought he was a bit quick to dismiss the in-game political activities performed by people playing games like Eve Online in favor of in-game conversations about real-world politics. The latter seem destined to failure, imo; no-one logs in to game spaces to talk politics, so it’s not surprising that such activities fail.
  • 028 – Tony Avruch explored the shifting shape of camera and visual topographies in Call of Duty games, particularly the level in CoD4 where players take the role of the gunner on a support airship and find themselves reenacting footage widely available on the internet. He suggests that there’s some sort of disconnect between the player that allows for us to see this immersion as enjoyment, despite its verisimilitude. I’m not sure I understand how that fails to suture, but it was an interesting talk, nonetheless.
  • 064 – Alcatraz Roundtable was pretty interesting. First, historian Glen Gendzel gave a short talk about the vast history of the island outside its time as a prison, then Gary Hoppenstand and Lynn Bartholomae got to the good stuff, talking about the prison. Heh.
  • 204 – Jason Farman, “Hypermediating the Game Interface: Grand Theft Auto and the Alienation Effect” was my favorite paper of the conference. Farman connected Brechtian theatre theory with the acts of game-playing Bernard Perron wrote about in “From Gamers to Players and Gameplayers.” Farman suggests that the ability to goof on the game, such as giving your avatar a funny costume, allows players to distantiate themselves in the way Brechtian theatre hoped to distantiate audience members. Farman acknowledged, in Q&A, that it’s a crucial shift to put the burden for this sort of ironic play onto the player–who could play the game entirely straightfaced–but the discussion of Brecht in this context seemed crucial to me.
  • 204 – Jason Tocci, “Getting 1UP on Death,” was another very interesting discussion of game elements and ideas. Tocci explored the workings and phenomenology of death in games, thinking about games where death becomes part of the narrative or avoiding it is essential (such as games where you are revived or fight your way back to life instead of dying and starting over). Tocci’s presentation style was pretty great too.
  • 266 – Cynthia Nichols and Lauren M. Reichart, “Parasocial Interaction and The Bachelor.” I’m not trained in the sociological, scientific model of textual analysis, with statistics and coding. That aside, Nichols and Reichart presented an interesting breakdown of a prominent Bachelor fan blog and its comment audience. In particular, I was interested to hear that the producers of the show got involved with the blogger, bringing her to L.A. and giving her special access. The idea of parasocial interaction seems a useful one, but I’m still not convinced about the utility of the deep data coding as opposed to a more general descriptive practice.
  • 266 – Steven John Thompson, “Romancing the Bone: Access, Intimacy, and the Grammatologies of Craigslist.org.” The grammatologies was what lured me to this panel, and it turned out to be a bit of a red herring, infiltrating the presentation much more indirectly than I expected. His analysis of the audiences and modes of presentation in the CL personal ads were excellent, though, and his presentation style was amusing; perfect for PCA. I also enjoyed a little reflected glory when, chatting with him afterward, I mentioned that I’d studied with Ulmer and he seemed a little star struck. I forget that, to others, Ulmer is a sage on a mountain rather than a sage sitting among stacks of books in his Turlington office. I’d guess I had the same look when John Walter mentioned that he was working with Ong. For his part, Thompson is studying with Vitanza, equally impressive in my book.
  • 266 – Montana Miller, “Private Life, Public Story: How Facebook’s ‘Feed’ Shattered the Frames.”  Miller’s talk was also excellent.  I would have liked to see her develop the “frames” idea a bit more, but perhaps the fifteen minute conference talk is the place to tell the anecdotes and evidence, and to leave the theory as a tantalizing Q&A possibility.
  • Mystery & Detective Area Business Meeting.  I got two recommendations to read: The Art of Detection by Laurie King and Dike Derrol the Railroad Detective available on Librivox.
  • 591 – The last panel I attended at the conference was on Saw.  The two papers were both interesting, discussing the characters and their connections to a variety of cultural influences.

My paper went over pretty well, I think, even if I didn’t have any good conclusions to offer.  I recorded the audio, so if it came out okay, maybe I’ll adapt it into a longer piece, if I can figure out somewhere to place it.

San Francisco Stories


I was in San Francisco for PCA 2008 last week. Some additional commentary on the panels will follow, but here’s a bit about my days in the city.

I took a long walk around the city on Good Friday, about six hours, and enjoyed it immensely. The most striking thing about the city is its architecture. The vast hillsides and outrageous property values result in a mix of eclectic styles with a compact layout. The row houses were particularly cool to look at, and I ended up taking lots of pictures of buildings.

I had lunch with a friendly light-bulb salesman named Dan, who offered some advice when he saw me perusing my copy of “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail.” I took some of his advice, but didn’t have time to go out to Golden Gate Park for a bike ride. Next time, Dan. We chatted about old films, kids these days, and ubiquitous computing. I suspect I was open to this conversation mostly because I was in conference mode, and inclined to chat with strangers. I don’t know that I would have lunch with a stranger in a Chicago eatery. More’s the shame for me.

Filbert Stairs 3
My favorite part of the walk was the Filbert steps, a wooden staircase that runs down Telegraph hill between two sets of houses. The stairs feel cozy and quaint, and you have to work not to look in peoples’ back windows. As I walked down the steps, I heard squawking and was happy to find a telephone line full of the wild parrots of Telegraph hill. I geeked out, taking several photos and even some video of the birds. Like the true nerd I am, I also pointed them out to other Filbert steps walkers, “Check out the parrots!” I say, grinning and full of delight.

Pier 39 frothed with humanity, and I strolled through the arcade, an ice cream cone in hand.   On the railing by the water overlooking Alcatraz, I found a BookCrossing book, which I picked up and plan to read soon.  Then I will release it back into the wild.  What fun!  I will have to pick a place where the book is likely to be picked up by a tourist, so it will travel further than Chicagoland.

The walk from the Hyde street railway station back to Chinatown was about 20 blocks, mostly uphill, but quite enjoyable.  I found this nifty little “mini park” between two houses and lots of neato houses and other bits of local color. In Chinatown, I had some tea at the Ten Ren Tea Company and marveled at the racks upon racks of t-shirts for $1.99 and $1.88, variously.    I arrived back at my hotel at 6:15pm exactly, right when I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner.

Overall, the city was lovely and fun to walk around.  I didn’t get to see Alcatraz up close because I stupidly didn’t book weeks in advance, nor did I have time to get out to Golden Gate park, but otherwise it was a very enjoyable walk.  If you want a more photographic description, you can check out my flickr photoset.

Letting others do the heavy lifting

battered umbrella

So Brian, wielding his writing like an epee as I bumble through with bullet points and snarking, has posted a lovely narrative of SCMS ’08. Go enjoy it.

SCMS roundup

I went to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philly this last weekend. A good time was had by all, or by me at least.

1. My paper

My presentation considered my same ol’ shtick, what happens to the detective as we enter electracy. This time I took a run at the discussion through mise-en-scene (the stuff in the movie that isn’t dialogue, plot, or sound). In short, I suggested that the pregnancy of possibility that film noir revels in encourages its detectives to operate differently, not by ratiocination but by intuition (conductively, to use the grammatological neologism).

2. Other people’s papers

Sometimes I’m a conference marathoner, going to oodles of panels. This year, I narrowed the field a bit, attending five or six panels only (out of a total 16 at the event). My highlights:

  • Jonathan Frome did an interesting paper on the paradox of fiction as it operates in one of the Zelda games.
  • Bob Buerkle pondered the odd use of the term “first-person shooter” for an operation that is really “second person” if we use the original meaning of those terms. I don’t entirely buy his argument, but I appreciated it.
  • Zach Whalen did an excellent talk about excavating useful nuggets of knowledge from inside game code. Reminds me a bit of the branch of film studies who look at shooting scripts and the like.
  • Josh Guilford spoke about advertising and the real/sellout dichotomy in early skateboard advertising. An amusing and interesting talk.
  • Rob Jones gave an interesting talk about the evolution of machinimateurs and its shift from free production work toward being a potential career. Interesting implications in conversation with the talks I heard about mix culture and its similar potential for monetary value to its producers.
  • Amanda Fleming did a fan-culture analysis of serial killer fan sites. It was an interesting expose, but I felt the salient issue in exploring these fan cultures is not just to point out what techniques and ideas they share with other fan communities, but also to consider the ethics of their behavior (which she avoided doing).
  • Nic Guest-Jelley’s paper about Chaplin was excellent. I like this notion of the wisdom of the slapstick comedian. Perhaps he will eventually help me understand why the Three Stooges are so popular.
  • My paper was, well, see above.
  • Brian Doan’s always enjoyable writing shone as he wove an entertaining and insightful discussion of The O.C. using the entrypoint of Peter Gallagher’s Eyebrows.
  • Joshua Green gave an excellent talk about fan culture and how it needs to change as it begins to wrestle with “produsers.”
  • Patricia Lange’s audience analysis of YouTube videos was great, and fit nicely with conversations I’ve had with my Game Culture students about how our we have to manage our personae online.
  • Peter Decherney gave a very interesting talk about Chaplin and his copyright battles.
  • Abigail Derecho’s talk about the early days of mix culture before the law and the music industry decided that any unauthorized sampling was illegal highlighted how important it is that we understand the law around copyright.
  • Peter Jaszi’s discussion of the Center for Social Media’s best practices documents and their effect on publishing practice with regard to Fair Use kicked ass.  An excellent, inspirational talk.
  • Lucas Hilderbrand led another interesting talk about copyright law, focusing on the Family Copyright Act of 2006, which clarified some weird bits of copyright law that I’ll write about a bit more some other time.
  • The Workshop on Scholarly Writing in the Digital Age was invigorating and excellent.  It highlighted for me, though, the rule that when we move to new media, we take old media forms with us, and they continue to limit our thinking.  We heard several talks about ways to make more interactive books.  Books.  Online books.  Why keep the book model?  To be fair, Jason Mittell did explicitly change his language to focus on “project” rather than book.  The conversation after the presentation was even more conservative in some ways.  Nonetheless, a fascinating and interesting workshop.

3. Philly

I did a bit of walking Saturday afternoon with Brian.  We checked out the Liberty Bell and the outside of Independence Hall (which closed minutes before we got there, darn it).   It was a nice walk and pleasant, but not as organized as some of my other trips.  Nonetheless, I took lots of photos.  You can check out my Flickr Philly set for more about that.

A comic in the works

Last thursday, I introduced Art Spiegelman when he spoke as part of Creative Nonfiction Week 2007. I had an excellent time and have several amusing/entertaining/edifying anecdotes to share.

It seems most reasonable to share these as comics, but since that takes a long time, it will be days or weeks before I’ve produced such works. This is just a note to tell you that I will be doing so. Aside from my illustrious Columbia College colleagues, also making appearances in my comics will be Scott McCloud and Chris Ware.
There, your appetite should be appropriately whetted.